September 2007 Archives

Poem: The Blue Pencil by Louis Esson

A fiendish man sits there to ban quaint yarns and soulful songs,
And hour by hour abuses power that unto him belongs.
His soul corrodes as he slays our odes; he makes each little less;
He's quite cocksure about Literature, and he knows not bashfulness.
Rose, woman, wine -- 'tis pearls to swine; he draws his guilty screw
By cuts and hacks with his blood-stained axe and his baleful Pencil Blue.

The golden spring, where the bell-birds sing, and the wavelets kiss the shore;
The murmuring stream where lovers dream -- he's heard 'em all before.
The sweet red rose that blooms and blows on top of the Drunkard's Grave
He rejects each time like the simple rhyme of the sunbeam on the wave.
The domestic life of the Gambler's Wife the basket hides from view,
And My Guiding Star "might make a par," says he with the Pencil Blue.

He has no mind for the whispering wind that sighs o'er the smiling scene,
He has no soul for the funeral roll of the Men That Might Have Been;
The Orbèd Night, the Heart's Delight, and Lost Loves two and three,
He treats as shams, which he loudly damns, with the Graveyard by the Sea.
At the Suicide's Doom and the Silent Tomb and the Angel-Girl we knew,
With ghoulish glare he shakes his hair and clutches his Pencil Blue.

He has no room for Wattle Bloom, nor the lights of Faerie Town;
The Dying Child but makes him wild, and he curses Eyes of Brown.
He swears amain at the sweetheart's pain for the Days of Long Ago,
And he wipes out Dick, the stockman sick, who dies in the Sunset Glow.
"There's Sweet Lucette, my fair brunette, now lost to Fancy's view!"
The brute doth leer, "not here, not here," and juggles his Pencil Blue.

First published in The Bulletin, 11 October 1906

Obligatory AFL Grand Final Entry

Thomas Keneally will tell you that it is eminently possible to have a literary career of some note and still be interested in football. Keneally's problem is his football is Rugby League - the fourth version of football in my view. First, is Australian Rules Football, whose Grand Final is played out tomorrow between Geelong and Port Adelaide. Kerryn Goldsworthy, literary critic and blogger, is a dyed-in-the-wool Port Adelaide supporter and had an article published in "the Age" this week - enemy territory as it happens - in which she attempts to explain exactly why she follows the team. Does a pretty good job as well. The only pity is, it's the wrong Adelaide team.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan has href="">received a fair bit of attention this year due to his latest work, The Arrival. If you've been wondering what all the fuss is about, you can now check out some excerpts from the book in "The New York Magazine" entertainment pages.

Weblog Entries

You may have noticed a drop off in the number of postings on this weblog over the past
week or so. There's nothing really to worry about, I'm not unwell, I'm not bored, I'm just tired. The new job I started in July has really started to kick in and by the end of the day I'm pretty much exhausted. The prospect of sitting in front of a PC at home, after spending 8 or so hours of doing exactly that during the day, feels me with something approaching dread.

Actually, I am a bit bored with this weblog at the moment. A number of my continuing series - such as Literary Monuments - have come to a halt due to lack of material, and I have a bit of a gap in ideas about what to head towards next. I have no doubt I'll come up with something, I generally do. I just need a bit of breathing space.

Anyway, the publishing industry isn't exactly burning the house down at present. Where
are the scandals? The new books everyone is talking about? I reckon they're just around the corner. When they turn up I'll let you know.

On Other Blogs #35

Ampersand Duck has been to the Lifeline book fair in Canberra, and over-indulged, again. Her tale of woe is a delight to read, especially as she finds a wondrous book with an intriguing title: She Vomits Like a Lady. Surely a book that should be in everyone's library. It's certainly one I'm going to keep an eye out for.

Henry Rosenbloom, publisher at Scribe Publications, goes out on a limb on his weblog and attempts to describe how publishers think. Oddly enough, it comes across as perfectly reasonable. "It's a fact universally acknowledged that an unsolicited manuscript has a very low chance of being of a publishable standard; that's why it gets put, in the first instance, in what's known as 'the slush pile'. It's very hard to justify putting scarce editorial resources into assessing such manuscripts. And yet -- as numerous mistaken rejections by publishers around the world and throughout history have shown -- it's folly to treat them all as unworthy of consideration."

Ben Peek is in the midst of writing a new novel, Across the Seven Continents of the Underworld, which he describes as "my-red-sun-bushranger-inspired-revenge-narrative novel". As well as posting the opening of the novel he also ponders on a question that I guess gets asked at just about every literary festival: "A lot of people will tell you a lot of things about the practice [of] writing and they're mostly a yawn. I figure you find your way and do it, and whatever that is, you do it. Write drunk, write sober, write high, write straight, write naked, write clothed, write whenever, write however. It's the end product that matters. For myself, when I'm writing a piece, I find that having a pattern is what's important. All I need to do is sit down every day and write a bit of it and when I'm done, I'm done."

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #33

The Age

According to Peter Craven, Craig Sherborne is creating a modern Australian classic with his memoirs. He reviews the second volume, Muck, this week. "A couple of years ago, Craig Sherborne's Hoi Polloi established itself overnight as a classic Australian memoir. Now we have the second volume of his all but catastrophic comic nightmare of an upbringing and its originality, its candour and its power of representation put it on par with its startling predecessor...this is an extraordinary book, full of savagery and pathos and the screed and cackle as well as the sadness of any young life in the midst of mad-seeming adults who constitute the world."

The Australian

Peter Stanley is a bit wary of Monash: The Outsider Who Won a War by Roland Perry. Writing a review of the book while walking around the cemetries and on the Somme, he's not in the mood to pull any punches: "Let's get two things straight: Monash was no outsider and he didn't win a war...The Monash legend began with Monash's own books. Perry uncritically fails to show he was a ruthless and ambitious micro-manager who gained results but not affection...Perry's book is far, far too long [596pp], and it's unbalanced and unconvincing."

Peter Corris is better pleased with The Vietnam Years: From the Jungle to the Australian Suburbs by Michael Caulfield: "Caulfield has produced a strong, tough-minded book, well constructed and compellingly written."

The Sydney Morning Herald

Hugh Mackay is one of Australia's most influential social commentators. You may not always agree with what he says, but you have to admit he's at least done his research. His latest book, Advance Australia...Where?, is reviewed by Roy Williams: "The subject of this fascinating book is the radical change that Australia has undergone in the last
quarter-century...The picture he paints is troubling. There has been an ugly skewing of our political, communal and personal priorities." Yes, Hugh, got that. Any hope on the horizon? Williams's view "is that Australia's one great national achievement of the late 20th century has been the creation of a multicultural society. Yet, as Mackay shows, it has been steadily undermined since the mid-1990s by manifestations of bigotry. Mackay points to an emerging tendency to scapegoat the marginalised and demand the quick fix." Giving with one hand, and taking away with the other. "There are, Mackay suggests, some grounds for hope. Australians are showing increased interest in religion and
spirituality." How you can those two sentences together beats me. It's not a direction I'd like to see any country take.

Quote: Le Guin on Genre

It's odd to find characters in a science-fiction novel repeatedly announcing that they hate science fiction. I can only suppose that Jeanette Winterson is trying to keep her credits as a "literary" writer even as she openly commits genre. Surely she's noticed that everybody is writing science fiction now? Formerly deep-dyed realists are producing novels so full of the tropes and fixtures and plotlines of science fiction that only the snarling tricephalic dogs who guard the Canon of Literature can tell the difference. I certainly can't. Why bother? I am bothered, though, by the curious ingratitude of authors who exploit a common fund of imagery while pretending to have nothing to do with the fellow-authors who created it and left it open to all who want to use it. A little return generosity would hardly come amiss.

- Ursula K Le Guin in a review of The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson for "The Guardian".

Australian Bookcovers #83 - The Well Dressed Explorer by Thea Astley


The Well Dressed Explorer by Thea Astley, 1962
Cover illustration and design by Lynda Taylor and Cathy van Ee
(Penguin 1988 edition)
[This novel was the winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 1962.]

Alice Pung Interview

In the past twelve months Alice Pung's memoir, Unpolished Gem, has been shortlisted for a NSW Premier's Literary Award, a Victorian Premier's Literary Award, an "Age" Book of the Year Award, and won the Australian Book Industry Award for Best Newcomer. Not a bad year's work all in all. Now Deborah Bogle has interviewed the author for "The Courier-Mail".

We read of a mother who worked late into the night making jewellery, and of her struggle to adapt when she was forced to give it up due to ill health. "I've had older women, not necessarily migrants, who've said those were the best parts of the book, that they had had the same experience when their children grew up and went to university," Pung says. "It was really touching to realise that, despite the cultural differences and the specific neighbourhood of Collingwood, people had found some universal appeal in the book."

Tom Keneally and Oscar Schindler

Schindler's Ark is now 25 years old, and now Tom Keneally has returned to the story of Oscar Schindler, and the tale of how he came to write his novel with Searching for Schindler, A Memoir. Nick Bray interviews the author in "The Courier-Mail".

"It came to me about three years ago that there was a bit of a story here in the process of producing the book and the film," Keneally says modestly from his home in Sydney. And it would be an opportunity to tell the story of Poldek, also known as Leopold Pfefferberg Page, the man who convinced Keneally that Schindler's story was, as he repeatedly called it, "the greatest story of humanity, man to man".

Australian Books to Film #26 - December Boys


December Boys 2007
Directed by Rod Hardy
Screenplay by Marc Rosenberg, from the novel by Michael Noonan
Featuring Daniel Ratcliffe, Lee Cormie, Christian Byers, James Fraser, and Jack Thompson

Poem: The Tale of Mr Brown by C.J. Dennis

   There was a crafty editor -
   (Of course, you understand
   That this was long before the light
   Of reason lit the land.)
   There was a crafty editor
   Whose calculating mind
   Controlled a mighty daily
   Of the "influential" kind.
   It was the "Morning Megaphone";
   'Twas popularly said
   To ev'ry corner of the land
   Its circulation spread.
      For it was read
By Smith and Smythe, and Lane and Lee,
Murphy, Morphy and Magee,
Puddlefoot and Ponsonby;
Read with rare avidity
By quite nine hundred thousand folk of ev'ry walk in life.
Indeed, by all the populace, its sister, and its wife.

   Now this very crafty editor -
   (I wish to make it clear
   That this was ere men knew their minds
   Or spoke them, minus fear).
   This very crafty editor
   Conceived a crafty plan
   To boost the circulation
   Of the paper that he ran.
   In short, his scheme was to create,
   With journalistic zeal,
   A Popular Opinion.
   And produce a Public Squeal
      That would appeal
To Smith and Smythe, and Lane and Lee,
Murphy, Morphy and Magee,
Puddlefoot and Ponsonby -
Men whose perspicacity
Was not above the common, but the object was to swell
The ardor of the Public and its maiden aunt as well.

   Now at this time Josiah Brown -
   (I trust you grasp the fact
   'Twas long before men pleased themselves
   How they should think and act).
   Josiah Brown, plain citizen,
   Lay shug a-bed and dreamed,
   Nor thought, nor knew, nor ever heard
   Of that the pressmen schemed.
   Nor troubled to consider,
   Or suppose, or speculate
   That a Mighty Public Question cried
   For him to arbitrate
      And in like state
Slept Smith and Smythe, and Lane and Lee,
Murphy, Morphy and Magee,
Puddlefoot and Ponsonby -
Independent men and free -
And nine hundred thousand others, each and ev'ry one inclined
To congratulate himself upon his hardy strength of mind.

   At breakfast time Josiah Brown
   Was much surprised to find
   That a red-hot Public Question
   Exercised the Public Mind.
   And ev'ry man of any worth,
   Except himself, it seemed,
   Had been moved to clamor loudly
   While he slept and drowsed and dreamed.
   Then he waxed enthusiastic,
   And he banged the breakfast board,
   And vowed that all along he'd voiced
   The popular accord.
      In like vein roared
The Smiths and Smythes, and Lanes and Lees,
Murphys, Morphys and Magees,
Puddlefoots and Ponsonbys -
Each and ev'ry one of these.
In fact, the Great, Glad Public and its cousin twice removed
Vowed they'd inwardly digested this Great Question and approved.

   The very crafty editor
   Lay low and gently smiled,
   While the Public rent its shirt, and grew
   Hysterical and wild.
   And proudly did Josiah Brown
   Protrude his manly chest.
   He delivered public speeches which
   Were cheered like all the rest;
   And vaguely he suspected that,
   Before the fuss began,
   Within his inmost mind of minds
   He had conceived the plan.
      So, to a man,
Did Smith and Smythe, and Lane and Lee,
Murphy, Morphy and Magee,
Dash and Dingle, Prout and Pringle, Puddlefoot and Ponsonby,
And a million thinking units of the Great Democracy.
(But, of course, it must have happened when the world was very young,
And no one thought his private thoughts before he loosed his public tongue.)

First published in The Bulletin, 6 May 1909

On Other Blogs #34

The wriggly blokes over at the "Talking Squid" weblog have started a new interview thread: the subject of one day's one-question interview asks a question of someone else the next. The first featured Chris Lawson talking to Nick Evans, who then spoke to Sean Williams, who then questioned Jonathan Strahan. This could go on forever. Mainly sf
so far but it could spread its wings soon. Wish I'd thought of it.

Max Barry, author of the excellent novel Company, responds to a reader stuck in a dilemma. The reader has been lending copies of Barry's book to work colleagues and now finds that his manager wants to read it, and wants the reader to attend his book club to discuss it. "One of the interesting things about corporate workplaces is that they turn otherwise decent human beings in... well, management. They're not like that because they're petty, deceitful
scumbags. I mean, obviously that helps. But it's the environment that encourages those personality traits." He might be getting into a nature vs nurture debate here. From what I'd seen, I would generally come down on the side of nature.

Carbon Credit for Books

A new organisation, Eco-Libris, offers book-lovers the opportunity to offset some of the carbon usage involved in reading books. The aim is for reader to determine how many books they would like to balance out, and a specified number of trees will be planted. In addition, "Customers also receive a sticker made of recycled paper for every book they balance out saying 'One Tree Planted for this Book.' They can later display these stickers on their books' sleeves." A book a week looks like working out to a cost of about $A57. Definitely worth considering.

Review: Paydirt by Kathleen Mary Fallon

paydirt.jpg Kathleen Mary Fallon
University of WA Press, 163 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Perry Middlemiss

I've never been particularly fond of the prose style known as "stream of consciousness": it has always seemed rather pretentious to me. Loosely defined in Wikipedia as "a literary technique which seeks to portray an individual's point of view by giving the written equivalent of the character's thought processes, either in a loose interior monologue, or in connection to his or her sensory reactions to external occurrences", the literary technique is one that a reader either gets or feels repelled by. I'm usually at the latter end of this scale.

So it was some degree of trepidation that I come to Paydirt by Kathleen Mary Fallon, a new Australian novel comprised of four "stream of consciousness" pieces. Kate is the white foster mother of Warren, a Torres Strait Islander boy, who was taken away from his mother as a young toddler. Kate and Warren are flying to Brisbane to see Flo, Warren's birth mother, as she is dying. These three characters, plus Delkeith, a go-between, tell their stories in turn; jumping backwards and forwards, gradually filling in the small details of their mutual history. The first and main piece of the book concerns Kate. She sits in the plane, drinking whiskeys, dreading the coming meeting, and trying to make sense of her feelings towards Warren and his place in her life.

I hate Warren. I hate him for showing me up to myself. My coy, closet Christianity. Hate him because he's the focus for all the abuse and filth that's been directed at me, because I chose him to hold up against that as proof of some pudding and now he's the conduit for it. Hate him because I saw what that violence has turned him into. The Stolen Generation's just the most recent story in a long epic. Some Christian re-enactment. Save him. Save myself. Hate him because it hasn't worked. I'm lost. I'm part of the Crusade, this maelstrom of involution. Everything is regressing, going back to some equilibrium, some point of origin. Hell spreads.
She's completely conflicted and acts, in this novel, as the Australian white everyman: on the one hand being overwhelmed by a protective instinct that is part maternal and wholly human, and on the other, angry about the role she has had to play and the affect it has had on her. She ends her piece with an apology which runs for two pages, ending with a resolution that, while she is sorry for all that has happened and for all the things she she didn't do, she remains resolute in her desire to do what's best for Warren. How that will turn out, she, and we as readers, have no way of determining.

Paydirt hasn't got much in the way of plot, yet the story in the background is long and deep. The idea of telling a story completely in flashbacks is nothing new, though I suspect very few books have pushed it as far as this one. As I said earlier, whether you think it succeeds or not is a matter of personal taste. There are no easy answers here for any of the characters, just as there are no easy answers for the whole Australian community. But Fallon isn't looking for specific answers in her work. The aim is for the readers to read the thoughts of the main characters and hopefully come to some understanding, however small, of the problems that all parties face. This book doesn't aim to make big changes in our attitudes - I suspect the novel's audience will be largely sympathetic to the subject matter in any case - but even a little extra insight is an improvement.

2008 Barbara Jefferis Award

Entries for the 2008 Barbara Jefferis Award are being sought. This was the major award href="">announced by the Australian Society of Authors back in early April. The award is offered annually for "the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women or girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society." Entries close Friday 30th November 2007, and the winner will be announced on Saturday 8th March 2008, International Women's Day. Further details regarding how to enter are available on the application form. [Note: PDF file.]

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #32

The Age

Mandy Sayer's latest novel, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, is short, only some 159 pages, but according to Fiona Gruber packs in a lot of themes: "The elements at play - domestic violence, incest, promiscuity, larceny and substance abuse - are the tropes of our times, and their perpetrators the 21st- century equivalent of club-wielding ogres, predatory goblins and lying witches. It's just tough when they're all kin." Yes, we're in dysfunctional family territory here: absent mother, strange violent father and weird kids. "Sayer has written a thrilling and sure-footed tale. As a storyteller, she is a safe pair of hands juggling very sharp knives."

The Australian

Frank Campbell is mightily impressed with Graeme Kinross-Smith's debut novel: "Long Afternoon of the World is a novel written by a poet, which explains its rare power and intensity, sustained to the end. There's nothing prosaic about this book. Everything is chosen, weighed and measured with a steely concentration. Its triumph is to conjure poetry's brief unique fire into prolonged incandescanece. There are no tepid, careless passages such as pockmark the work of even great novelists; no padding, no frivolous diversions. This novel should be banned from airports because once you enter its labyrinth of rooms you'll miss the boarding call." This is Kinross-Smith's first novel, and he's 70. There's hope for us yet.

Dead Birds by Trevor Shearston is a "strangely compelling novel" according to Debra Adelaide. But, she says, "It's likely to divide readers, who will understand and embrace it entirely or simply resist. Just like the fiction of Gerald Murnane: readers love or hate his work but are never ambivalent about it."

There seems to be little consistency, week to week, about which reviews are uploaded to any paper's website. Gives you the impression they are not really interested.

2007 HRC Seymour Lecture

The "Australian Book Review" has announced that the 2007 HRC Seymour Lecture will be titled "Biography and the Struggle for the Soul of Australia", and will be delivered by Professor Jill Roe AO, a well-known historian with a particular interest in historical biography. Professor Roe will be publishing a life of Miles Franklin in 2008. The lecture will be delivered in Melbourne on Wednesday, October 3 (NGV Australia: The Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square) and in Sydney on Wednesday, October 10 (National Maritime Museum), both at 6pm. The lectures are free and open to the public, and you can get further details at the lecture website.

Australian Bookcovers #82 - The Slow Natives by Thea Astley


The Slow Natives by Thea Astley, 1965
Cover: a detail from a painting by Narelle Wildman
(Penguin 1990 edition)
[This novel was the winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 1965.]

2007 Canberra Readers and Writers Festival

The 2007 Canberra Readers and Writers Festival on the theme of Icy Worlds: Cool Words, will be held in the Coorong Pavilion at Exhibition Park, Mitchell, ACT, alongside the Lifeline BookFair from 21-23 September. You can obtain further details from the website.

Film Adaptation Nim's Island by Wendy Orr, Update

In May this year, we reported on the upcoming film adaptation of Nim's Island by Wendy Orr. That adaptation has moved on according to Michele Gierck in "The Courier-Mail" as she chats to author Wendy Orr about the book, the film and how the two came together. The other piece of news is that filming has started on Queensland's Gold Coast.

Extract: I Dream of Magda by Stefan Laszczuk

"The Australian" newspaper has published an target=new>extract of this year's The Australian/Vogel Award winning novel, I Dream of Magda by Stefan Laszczuk. And, yes, the Madga of the title does refer to actress Magda Szubanski.

Melbourne University Press Profile

In an occasional series for "The Age", Ray Cassin profiles Melbourne University Press and its publisher and chief executive officer, Louise Adler.

MUP has changed its policy direction since Adler came on board in 2003. The aim has been to move away from being a purely academic publisher to one which also publishes books for the intelligent informed reader. Recent successes have included The Latham Diaries by Mark Latham, Voyages to the South Seas: In Search of Terres Australes by Danielle Clode, and the recent biography of Australia's Prime Minister, John Winston Howard by Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen. If the intention is to inform, and occasionally lead, public debate, then it would appear that the press has certainly succeeded. The next publisher to be examined in this series with be Scribe.

MUP website.

Poem: The Paper Famine by Edward Dyson

The tradesman at the poet's door
   Was red with righteous ire,
A thumping sheaf of bills he bore.
Said he: "I've served it oft before.
   This sort of thing would tire
The patience of old Job.
Are we To bill you to eternity?"

The poet on the tradesman smiled.
   "Why should you mind?" said he.
"If I do not? I am not wild.
Indeed, I am quite reconciled.
   Send in your bills to me.
I find them excellent anon
To rough-cast little poems on."

First published in The Bulletin, 13 September 1917

2007 The AustralianVogel Award Winner

Stefan Laszczuk has been named as the winner of the 2007 The Australian/Vogel Award, for an unpublished manuscript for an Australian writer under the age of 35, for his novel titled I Dream of Magda. The award carries prizemoney of $20,000 and a publishing contract.

Australian Literary Monuments #25 - Henry Handel Richardson


Henry Handel Richardson plaque, Circular Quay, Sydney.

2007 Queensland Premier's Literary Award Winners

The winners of the 2007 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards have been announced. It appears that this was the last official function attended by retiring premier Peter Beattie.

Unpublished Indigenous Writer - The David Unaipon Award
Elizabeth Eileen Hodgson for Skin Paintings

Poetry Collection - Arts Queensland Judith Wright Calanthe Award
Dr Laurie Duggan for The Passenger (University of Queensland Press)

Australian Short Story Collection - Arts Queensland Steele Rudd Award
David Malouf for Every Move You Make (Random House UK)

Film Script - Pacific Film and Television Commission Award
Joel Anderson for Lake Mungo (Mungo Productions Pty Ltd)

Television Script - QUT Creative Industries Award
Sue Smith for Bastard Boys (Flying Cabbage Productions)

Non-Fiction Book Award
Professor Tom Griffiths for Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica (New South / UNSW Press)
Science Writer - Department of State Development Award
Dr Richard Smith for Crude (ABC Television)

History Book Award
Christopher Clark for Iron Kingdom (Allen Lane, Penguin Books)

Literary or Media Work Advancing Public Debate - The Harry Williams Award Chris Masters for Jonestown (Allen & Unwin)

Children's Book - The Dymocks Literacy Foundation
Glenda Millard for Layla Queen of Hearts (ABC Books)

Young Adult Book Award
Judith Clarke for One Whole and Perfect Day (Allen & Unwin)

Drama Script (Stage) Award
Campion Decent for "Embers" (HotHouse Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company)

Fiction Book Award
Alexis Wright for Carpentaria (Giramondo Publishing)

Emerging Queensland Author - Manuscript Award
Ian Commins for Life in the Bus Lane

No Taxation Without Compensation

Michael Heyward, publisher with Text Publishing, calls on the Federal Governement to return some of its taxation revenues, from the sales of books, back into the Australian publishing industry. As Heyward puts it, while it appears that the number of books published in Australia is quite high, it is actually on the lower end of the global scale when you compare book publication per million of the population. The argument goes that putting extra money into the Australian publishing industry by employing and training more book editors will act as a stimulus to the industry and allow publishers to publish more Australian content.

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #31

The Age

For the first five or six years of this decade, Melbourne underworld gangs took part in a series of assassinations, murders, and retributions that, frankly, boggled the mind. Hardly a week seemed to go by without some new body turning up. A total of about 28 gang members were killed all up. Now, with Carl Williams convicted of three of the murders - he pleaded guilty - a number of accounts of the gangland wars have hit the books stands. Andrew Rule reviews two of them: Gangland Australia: Colonial Criminals to the Carlton crew by James Morton and Susanna Lobez, and Big Shots: The Chilling Inside Story of Carl Williams & the Gangland Wars by Adam Shand. Unfortuately, the reviews aren't on the newspaper website.

Malcom Knox's previous novel, A Private Man, was shortlisted for a number of state awards and won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel. His latest, Jamaica, is reviewed by Kerryn Goldsworthy, who finds it awash with bone-dry Australian humour while, at the same time, taking a long hard look at Australian masculinity: "Knox's subject matter is familiar from his two earlier novels - well-to-do Sydney, men in groups, family dynamics, old secrets - but more than either Summerland or A Private Man, his third novel directly addresses some of the widening gaps between what Australians think of themselves and what we, or some of us, have become. The myth of an egalitarian ideal, for example, is shown to be nonsense, with the nuances and signifiers of class difference calibrated as finely here as anything in the fiction of George Eliot." She also tags a couple of other writers to give you a pointer: "like Temple and Maloney, Knox can be very funny while writing of profoundly serious things."

Ian Syson is beguiled by a couple of first novels in Long Afternoon of the World by Graeme Kinross-Smith, and Other Country by Stephen Scourfield. "I'm glad I read both books because Kinross-Smith is a brilliant writer from whom I am itching to read more; and Scourfield's story is a cracker that reveals an imagination that surely has more stories to tell. Despite my reservations, these two first novels are well worth the read if only for the promise they hold."

The Australian

Graeme Blundell is quite taken with Chris Womersley's first novel: "Chris Womersley begins The Low Road in a classic crime-thriller, almost film-noir style, its shadowy setting in what may be a dystopian Melbourne. It could also be Boston, Brisbane or Birmingham. Or what W.H. Auden called 'the Great Wrong Place'...Womersley writes with quirky sparkling detail. Fringe suburbs are places of failure, suspicion and negect. Car parks hum in their particular fluorescent silences, all angles and dark solids. Ribbons of highway unrave through wet suburbs. And bus shelters, with a scuffle of soft-drink-cans beneath wire seats, stink of domestic misfortune."

It must be first novel week out there in the publishing world with Anne Susskind reviewing The River Baptists, winner of the 2006 The Australian/Vogel award for unpublished manuscript. She has some quibbles - it's a first novel after all - but "then again, there's the freshness of a (relative) newcomer's curiosity and an admirable determination to penetrate beyond big impersonal Sydney and immerse herself in the flavour of a country in which she did not grow up."

Rare Book Auction

The library of Dudley Dickison (together with other properties) is to be auctioned over the weekend of 17-18 September at Ormond Hall, Prahran. You can see the full catalogue of the natural history, voyages & travels, literature and art books on the auctioneer's website.

So if you've ever hankered after a signed first edition of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake (a steal at $A10-12,000) or a first edition of Ulysses printed in English at $A1500-2000, then here's your chance. One of the highlights would have to be a first edition of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin. One of only 1250 printed, this one is yours for $A70-90,000.

Tim Flannery Review

Tim Flannery reviews Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming, by Bjorn Lomborg, in "The Washington Post".

Bjorn Lomborg is a Danish statistician and darling of those who believe that markets should not be regulated and that concerns about the environment are overblown. He is articulate, certain in his opinions and well informed on the statistical minutiae of the topics he investigates. Indeed, so compelling and entertaining are the grains of truth that adorn his latest book, Cool It, that you are certain to hear them soon in dinner table conversation. But is this book, as its subtitle proclaims, really an acceptable "guide to global warming"?
As you might expect, Flannery
thinks not.

Australian Bookcovers #81 - The Acolyte by Thea Astley

The Acolyte by Thea Astley, 1972
Cover illustration by Christopher McVinish and Cynthia Breusch
(UQP 1985 edition)
[This novel was the winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 1972.]

Writers at Literary Festivals

Mandy Sayers writes about what goes on behind closed doors at various literary festivals. I always like statements like: "The world's first official writers festival was staged in Adelaide in 1960." In that year the 18th World Science Fiction Convention was held in Pittsburgh, and Australian sf fans had already held 6 conventions of their own. I wonder what makes a writers' festival "official"?

2007 The Australian/Vogel Award Shortlist

The shortlisted works for The Australian/Vogel Award have been announced.

She Played Elvis by Shady Cosgrove
Conditions of Return by Daniel Ducrou
I Dream of Magda by Stefan Laszczuk
Memory Vertigo by Michael Sala
The Homocidal Nerd by Jason Spongberg

The winner will be announced this Thursday, 13th September. Just as a reminder, this award is given to the writer of an unpublished work of fiction, biography or history under the age of 35.

Poem: The Poet's Truth by Edward Dyson

The poet wrote in measure fine
Of sonorous and honeyed line
His love for Joan, the small and sweet,
Who'd come on little golden feet,
And in her rose-leaf hands, he swore,
Imprisoned him for evermore.

He sang of Joan's brown eyes, whose fire
Gave warmth like wine. His vibrant lyre
Lent music to her hair and stress
Of measured grace and tunefulness
To ears and lips' deep corners where
Were nectared sweets and essence rare.

Joan's wee, brave, lilied breasts he sang,
And at his touch a pæan rang In honor of her waist so slim,
The fondling turn of every limb,
Her neck, like suave, old ivory,
Where 'neath his lip her life ran free.

He sang a land of bliss alone
Where he might bide with love and Joan.
All raptures dear she brought to him
Of devils and of seraphim.
This wondrous song he sold next day,
And bought a stole of furs for May!

First published in The Bulletin, 17 May 1917

On Other Blogs #33

Justine Larbalestier explains why she loves blogging. 'Lately, I've realised that part of my writing process is to procrastinate. I need to futz around blogging, reading blogs, cooking, reading books, watching tellie in order to get my brain to the point where it's ready to write. When I just leap into writing gears grind on gears and it ain't pretty. Blogging and other procratinatory activities are necessary brain lubricants." Which is a pretty interesting way of looking at it.

Alice Taylor, via Cory Doctorow and the "Boing Boing" weblog, recommends The Silver Road, by Australian author Grace Dugan, as a great summer read. Not quite the season here yet, but if this weather keeps up summer will be here before we know it.

Jonathan Strahan is reading stories for inclusion in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Vol 2, and has hit the panic stage. It seems that judicious use of single malt scotch might be the only reliable cure.

2007 Man Booker Prize Shortlist Announced

The shortlist for the 2007 Man Booker Prize has been announced.

Darkmans - Nicola Barker
The Gathering - Anne Enright
The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid
Mister Pip - Lloyd Jones
On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan
Animal's People - Indra Sinha

The winner will be announced on Tuesday 16th October. Our guess? Mister Pip.

Australian Literary Monuments #24 - Dorothea MacKellar


Dorothea MacKellar plaque, Circular Quay, Sydney.
[Not quite lined up as I'd like.]

Michael Robotham Interview

The "reviewingtheevidence" website goes 60 seconds with Australian author Michael Robotham.

First Tuesday Book Club for September

Last night's "First Tuesday Book Club" on ABC TV discussed Peter Temple's The Broken Shore, with all the commentators deciding it was quite brilliant. I have some reservations about the book, but you can see what was said last night by visiting the program's website and scrolling down to video highlights.

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #30

The Australian

Gregory Day had a bit of a hit on his hands with his first novel, The Patron Saint of Eels, a year or so back, and now his second novel, set in the same part of the southwest coast of Victoria looks like picking up where that first novel left off. Christopher Bantick finds that "His fiction is a creel of ideas about how the sea influences perceptions. A common denominator is the way the sea affects the lives of those who live along the coast."

Craig Sherborne's first volume of his memoirs, Hoi Polloi, was published to critical acclaim a few years back, so his next instalment will be of interest to a great number of readers. Kathy Hunt thinks so in her review which she calls two acts of the one play, which "beg for the stage".

The Sydney Morning Herald

Malcolm Knox returns with his new novel, Jamaica, which Andrew Reimer attempts to come to grips with. While Reimer finds some faults, "My reservations are not much more than quibbles. The pace, verve and stylishness of Jamaica outweigh any such shortcomings. Some sections are brilliantly done."

There's not a lot this week, as you can see.

Belinda Castles Interview

Christopher Bantick interviews Belinda Castles, as her novel, The River Baptists, hits the shops. This novel won The Australian/Vogel award last year and so comes highly regarded, with Bantick calling it "essentially new Australian fiction."

2007 Victorian Premier's Literary Award Winners

The winners of the 2007 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards have been announced.

The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

The Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction
Voyages to the South Seas: In Search of Terres Australes by Danielle Clode

The CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry
Jack by Judy Johnson

The Louis Esson Prize for Drama
A Single Act by Jane Brodie

The Prize for Young Adult Fiction
Notes from the Teenage Underground by Simmone Howell

The Prize for Science Writing
The Silent Deep by Tony Koslow

The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate
The Writer in a Time of Terror by Frank Moorhouse

The Village Roadshow Prize for Screen Writing
The Tumbler by Chris Thompson

The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer
The Ghost Writer by Nick Gadd

The Grollo Ruzzene Foundation Prize for Writing About Italians in Australia
Madonna of the Eucalypts by Karen Sparnon

The John Curtin Prize for Journalism
Muslim Leader Blames Women for Sex Attacks (plus associated stories) by Richard Kerbaj

Australian Bookcovers #80 - The Mango Tree by Ronald McKie

The Mango Tree by Ronald McKie, 1974
(Fontana Books 1975 edition)
[This novel was the winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 1974.]

Reviews of Australian Books #63

In "The Times Literary Supplement", Elizabeth Lowry takes a detailed look at J.M. Coetzee's latest two books, Diary of a Bad Year and Inner Workings: Essays 2000-2005. She finds the novel "differs from almost all of Coetzee's earlier fiction in being laced with a dry, self-deprecating humour...Diary of a Bad Year proves that Coetzee remains the master of the brutal, the unpoetic, the relentlessly real, in the modern sense, unfailingly setting up an equation between the form of the prose itself and the desolation of the experience it describes." On the other hand, the essay collection "is a superbly well-informed and always lucid body of criticism that is never less than scholarly, but nevertheless fails to make the pulse race. Coetzee's alertness to form as something that is crucial to the purposes of literature is as keen here as it is in his fiction, and he is unfailingly perceptive when pinpointing influences."

Quercus, in the UK, continues its association with Text Publishing by releasing Adrian Hyland's Diamond Dove. In "The Guardian", Matthew Lewin calls it "a startling, confident first novel." And, in another short review, Susanna Yager in "The Telegraph thinks Hyland "is definitely a writer to watch".

Eva Niessner is quite taken by Sonya Hartnett's novel, Surrender, in "The Herald-Mail" from Hagerstown, Maryland. She finds it a great story, but dark and gritty: "Surrender is an incredible book for young adults, and I would give it the highest rating possible."

Mitchell Jordan, in the "Epoch Times", tackles Hartnett's latest, The Ghost's Child, and is similarly captivated. "This glittering writing, coupled with evocative imagery and metaphors makes reading the book a positive and uplifting experience for audiences of any age, who are unlikely not to be charmed by a tale which proves that love really is the most important thing. "

Australian Books to Film #25 - Playing Beattie Bow


Playing Beatie Bow 1986
Directed by Donald Crombie
Screenplay by Peter Gawler and Irwin Lane, from the novel by Ruth Park
Featuring Peter Phelps, Imogen Annesley, Mouche Phillips, and Nikki Coghill

Poem: The Business-Like Bard by Edward Dyson

Some scribes their tinkling verses string
   In sweating diligence;
To charm a maiden's ear they sing --
   I question not their sense,
Nor gibe I at the wanton waste,
   But let them still adore.
I serve no damsel fair and chaste,
But weave my rhymes to please the taste
Of some grim, goggled, hairy-faced,
   Prosaic editor.

Some poets in pursuit of fame
   Burn midnight kerosene,
Grow pale and famished at the game;
   But diligent and keen
Their tortued syllables they ile,
   And stanzas polish o'er,
That Glory may be theirs a while,
I care not on whom Glory smile
If with my verses I beguile
   The gloomy editor.

There is a bard who trims his line
   For sour Prosterity.
He eats to-morrow's bread, drinks wine
   Of Nineteen-twenty-three.
The mistress he pursues, poor boy,
   Is always on before --
Anticipation is his joy.
My whole endeavor I employ
To be accepted by some coy,
   Concurrent editor.

First published in The Bulletin, 15 November 1917

Currently Reading


 Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
The second book in the "First Law" series. Epic fantasy written to honour the honour and explore the standard fantasy tropes, as well as to poke ore than a little fun at them at the same time. A big book, but still a page-turner.



 How it Feels by Brendan Cowell
A debut novel from a multi-talented author/actor/director. A coming-of-age novel which might well be semi-autobiographical.


Recently Read


 Monster Blood Tattoo: Factotum by D. M. Cornish
The third book in the MBT series. Will we finally find out who Rossamund really is? And will we be sad to leave this fully-realised fantasy world? I suspect the answer will be "yes" to both.



 Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn by Marshall Browne
Browne's first novel in a new series, this time featuring a Japanese detective, Inspector Aoki. This novel finds the inspector investigating an old murder in a snowed-in remote Japanese retreat.



 The City & The City by China Miéville
Miéville's Hugo Award winning novel of two cities inhabiting the same physical location. A murder mystery with hints of classic sf/fantasy memes, from Dick to Borges, but in a European setting.

 Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
The 13th Jack Reacher novel. Suicide bombers on the New York subway and international terrorism mixed with hard-boiled action makes for an interesting brew.



 The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Heroic fantasy in the modern style. A fantasy that is laced through with noirish elements, and excellent characterisations. First book of The First Law trilogy.

 Where Have You Been? by Wendy James
What happens when a sister returns after being missing, presumed dead, for twenty years? James enhances her reputation as one of Australia's rising literary novelists.

 Wyatt by Garry Disher
Disher's anti-hero is back after an absence of ten years with a gritty, fast, noirish struggle for survival. All the best aspects of Disher's work are on display here.



 Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
A Young Adult steampunk novel set at the start of an alternate history First World War. Fast-paced, intriguing and totally captivating.



 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Dick's novel of the near future when the difference between human and android is barely discernible. One of the great all-time sf titles.



 American Journeys by Don Watson
Watson journeys into the heart of America, by train and car. There he discovers the best, and the worst, of humanity and society.



 Ghostlines by Nick Gadd
2009 Best First Novel at the Ned Kelly Awards. Murder in the art world involving political intrigue and business corruption in Melbourne.


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